Cross-posted from LifeSite News.
Fifteen year-old Robbie Jernigan was riding his bike three summers ago during his family’s vacation when the accident happened. Being deaf from birth, he could not hear the approach of the speeding vehicle as he darted onto the crosswalk.
The car’s impact sent Robbie flying ten feet through the air before he slammed into the ground, his helmet thrown one way, his shoes another. His family found him lying crumpled on the ground, a bone protruding from one of his legs.
But Robbie did not cry. He did not complain. In fact, he let out a little laugh to reassure the crowd that had gathered that he was going to be all right. Putting on a brave front, he high-fived the paramedics as they loaded him into the ambulance.
While Robbie was recovering in the hospital, his older brother Andrew, now 27, found himself reflecting on what made his brother with Down syndrome so dear to him. He felt compelled to put this thoughts to paper and share them with family and close friends.
Andrew shared the fruit of his labour in a exclusive to LifeSiteNews.com:
By Andrew Jernigan, May 2010
My youngest brother Robbie is by far the most incredible person on earth. A lot of people have it rough, but that’s often minimal in comparison to the cards he’s been dealt. Robbie was born with Down Syndrome. I had just turned thirteen and did not understand what that meant at the time. It’s definitely not something you recognize the full implications of by reading a book.
Robbie was also born with holes in his heart that needed to be repaired before he turned one. Doctors were able to completely stop his heart for a brief period of time while they completed the procedure. I was oblivious to the fact that this was a pretty risky operation, until my principal started crying after I handed him a note from my mom to excuse me from school.
While still an infant, a second surgery on Robbie’s intestines left his chest a patchwork of scars. To this day these do not embarrass him in the least. Shortly after this, we found out Robbie was deaf. While this can sometimes happen after a heart surgery, it’s possible that he was born this way. At the time, cochlear implants were relatively new, but before long he was in the operating room again. He now has a foreign object implanted into his head that allows him to hear when he has his earpiece on.
Unfortunately, there are a few activities that Robbie cannot participate in without removing his earpiece. This always made me feel bad for him, that he had to choose between hearing, and doing something he loves. He takes it off before bed, before swimming, and when wearing a bike helmet, etc. Sometimes he’ll even take it off just to spite me, like if I’m getting on his nerves, or being too loud while he’s watching spongebob. I think it’s his way of saying: “Shut up, or I’ll shut you up.”
While on vacation, Robbie was riding his bike and did not see — and could not hear — the vehicle approaching as he pulled onto a crosswalk. When the car hit him, he flew more than ten feet before hitting the ground. His helmet was thrown in one direction, and his shoes were thrown the other way.
He lay on the ground with a bone sticking out of his leg so grotesquely that even the strongest stomachs would churn. He did not cry, he did not complain. He let out a little laugh to reassure the crowd that had gathered, and he high-fived the paramedics as they loaded him into the ambulance.
Robbie was the only one who was not scared.
When preparing for the surgery to fix the leg, Robbie took the anesthesia mask from the doctor and put it on himself. He knew what was coming.
As a result of the accident, Robbie was in a wheelchair for four months while his leg healed. He got pretty good at navigating his way around with that two-wheeled seat. He also got pretty good at soaking up all the attention the accident brought him from friends and family. The only time the accident bothered him was when he was forced to miss school for a doctor visit.
I can see him now kissing the bus driver goodbye, something he does every single time at the end of the ride.
Not too long after this, when Robbie was at school, he went into the bathroom. Nobody’s really clear about what happened next, but he was found flat on his back, turning blue. Somehow he had fallen and hit his head. They had to perform CPR on him while an ambulance rushed to the scene.
After several days of testing, doctors discovered two fractures in Robbie’s neck, likely from the bike accident seven months before, that had gone unnoticed. This meant that for all that time Robbie had been walking around with a broken neck. He had to go back to the hospital for another round of surgery. Will it be his last?
Doctors fear he may have lifelong restrictions, but from what I know of my brother, I would like to see anyone try to stop him from doing anything.
I don’t really like to talk about things close or personal to me, however, I think maybe everyone could learn something from this amazing little kid. The word ‘retard’ annoys me more than any other. No matter what form, tense, or context it’s used in, I still get a cold chill every time I hear it.
Robbie may have a form of ‘mental retardation’ but he’s smarter than you might give him credit. He can read, write, do math, and remember every bit of sign language ever taught to him.
He loves taking pictures of himself, and picking out his clothes. He changes the channel during commercials. He has all his favorite online games bookmarked. He figured out how to set up the playstation before I did.
He gets pissed at me when I forget to use the turning signal while driving. Every time I leave my house he asks if we can swing by McDonald’s for french fries. If I say ‘no’, he’ll ask instead for a slurpee, because he knows a trip to 7-11 is quicker and cheaper.
Robbie’s an entertainer, wanting to always show off everything he can do. His impression of me is putting a hat on sideways and walking into the room, like he’s some gangster rapper. When I’m watching sports, he’ll go and change into the jersey that corresponds with the team.
He got the game-winning hit in the championship the one year he played baseball.
No matter how hard you try to hide emotion, he knows when you are sad, and will do his best to cheer ya’ up. Usually this consists in giving me a hug, while sneakily reaching into my pocket for my cell phone.
At the school where I coach football, Robbie would come to practice every single day. No, he was not coming to hang out with the boys but to hang out in the gym, where the girls’ volleyball team played. He has little boy crushes like any other kid, except he can plant a smooch on anyone he wants to, and he knows he can get away with it.
Robbie doesn’t pout, whine, or feel bad for himself. He never judges, makes fun, or treats anyone badly.
He’s confident: Anything you can do, he thinks he can do better. He’ll forgive you in a second, but he’s gonna try to get some french fries out of the deal.
Visitors cannot leave our house without him walking them out the door. He’s always the first one at the door when I come home.
The most remarkable part about him is that while he was born with two holes in his heart, it is stronger and more caring than any other heart that I’ve ever come across.
He’s an inspiration to all who get to know him. He lives life to the best of his ability, and has fun while doing it.
I wouldn’t trade Robbie for anyone in the entire world. He’s tough, yet fragile. He’s everything I wish to be someday. He’s superman.
Andrew told LifeSiteNews.com that as Robbie lay recovering in the hospital the inspiration to write about what he saw in his brother “came easy.” In a culture that aborts up to 90 percent of babies with Down syndrome, Andrew’s account reveals the immense beauty and value of persons with an extra 21st chromosome, if one has the eyes to see it.
Shirley Kintner, Robbie’s aunt, told LifeSiteNews that people too easily judge others by what they see on the outside, missing all the goodness and beauty on the inside.
“I want others to see the loving and kind spirited boy that he is,” she said. “I want others to see his giving spirit.”
“In Robbie I see laughter, joy, accepting of others, and honesty,” she said. “He does not let things bother him. He goes on enjoying his life and easily forgets a bad experience.”
Shirley related one story highlighting Robbie’s zest for living in the present moment. Once, while lying in a hospital bed after his bike accident, Robbie was visited by his uncle Dan. Robbie started frantically signaling towards his uncle. But uncle Dan, who did not know sign language, thought Robbie was excitedly trying to tell him all about the accident. Asking Robbie’s Mom what all the motioning meant, she replied: “Rob is saying you’re blocking the TV and to get out of the way.”
“Robbie doesn’t waste time worrying about things: He enjoys the moment he is living,” said Shirley.
Shirley has nothing but love for her nephew who has a way of wiggling into the hearts of those who come to know him.
“Robbie is observant. He will watch your every move and master your routine. He will notice your habits and beat you to them. He is the first to greet you when you walk into a room. He knows trash day and makes sure the garbage cans are out and ready for pick-up and then put back afterwards. He will unload the car of groceries, and put everything away in the right spot,” she said
“What 15 year-old do you know that would do this without a complaint?” she asked. “Not many, I bet, but Robbie does it with pride.”